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Everything you’ve spent years working on can disappear from the Internet

The Internet, by its very design, is a fragile ecosystem.

The Internet, by its very design, is a fragile ecosystem.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/ iStock

Last month, some 53 million songs got deleted from Myspace during an alleged server migration

I awoke one morning in late March to some mild-to-medium horrifying news. Myspace had somehow managed to lose 53 million songs on its database during an alleged server migration. Anything uploaded on the website between 2003 and 2015 had just been wiped out. Myspace used to be the coolest social network at one point of time, and it had thousands of young, unsigned musicians putting up their music for the world to stream. Its social capital had dwindled over time, but it still served as a collection of sounds and memories for many. Then poof! Like the audio files it so callously destroyed, the memories were now “irreparably corrupted”.

Which has left me with a sense of dread and gloom in my stomach, in that precise spot where hunger usually resides. It’s a realisation, one that’s always loitered absent-mindedly around the back of my head, that the Internet is ephemeral. Everything you’ve spent years working on can disappear in a second or two. All thanks to a dumbass intern not checking a box he’s supposed to. Or a vindictive employee who hates his boss. Or simply because the wi-fi went off during a file transfer and now all the files are broken.

Very real fear

I’ve been writing for a living for close to a decade now. For the first couple of years or so, my grandfather was still around, and he’d cut out my articles from magazines and newspapers and maintain a little scrapbook. My mother does it now, occasionally. I do no such thing, though of late I’ve started maintaining an online portfolio of my work in addition to archiving articles that may vanish at some point. It’s a very real fear.

An article in Caravan magazine recently looked at the disappearance of the Tehelka archives. When Time Out shut down around five years ago, their formidable archives too vanished. Another music publication I used to write for no longer hosts any of the articles I wrote. Given the perpetually precarious state in which the print and digital media reside, disappearances could just end up becoming the norm.

Imagine this then: one day you wake up. Mark Zuckerberg, heartbroken about something or the other the previous night, in a bitter rage and hopped up on black coffee and Red Bull, has decided to delete every single post on Facebook. Oh, and Instagram too. All those memories. All those connections. Photos of loved, liked, and deeply hated ones. Updates about your breakfast. Abstract open letters to lost loves. Hashtags. Nofilters. Sponcon. The “It’s complicated” relationship statuses. Rants. All those very real personal histories. Lost to the ether.

It’s alarmist, but not beyond the realms of possibility. The Internet, by its very design, is a fragile ecosystem that could go balls-up any second. It’s never still, it’s forever moving, into new worlds of uncertainty. A change in law here, a crashed server there, a shift in technology.

So what do we do then? Do we live with the fear that huge parts of digital history could be erased one day? Do we live in denial? Do we safeguard against the inevitability by turning into Luddites and moving back to the pre-digital world? The answer to all these questions is varying degrees of ‘no’.

One article suggested harsher penalties. More laws. Ensure that digital media follows proper archiving procedures, punish them if they don’t. But hello? How do you enforce this when most digital companies work on shoestring budgets? And what about India? We’d first have to tell the people in power about this thing called the Internet and how it’s used for things other than aggressive electioneering and harassing dissenters. Plus, with the elections upon us, Internet archiving is unlikely to be a matter of priority any time soon.

I don’t have a solution. Just this space where I share this bottomless fear of a world where huge chunks of modern history go missing. Where cherished memories can, just like that, be wiped out. Like they never existed. And this, perhaps, is the central conflict of the digital age. Thanks a lot, Myspace.

The author and freelance culture writer from New Delhi wishes he’d studied engineering instead.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 11:58:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/internet/everything-youve-spent-years-working-on-can-disappear-from-the-internet-in-a-trice/article26816765.ece

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